When the sultan of Morocco offered himself to the Cortes to occupy the vacant throne of Spain in 1870

In 1870 the Spanish Courts received a letter sent by the Sultan of Morocco with an unusual proposal: he offered his candidacy for the throne of Spain.

The throne had been vacant since the Glorious Revolution two years earlier had caused the exile of Queen Elizabeth II and her subsequent abdication to her son Alfonso. In his letter, the Muslim leader invoked the memory of Al Ándalus.

Between September 19 and 27, 1868, Spain experienced days of revolutionary effervescence. An uprising that brought together military and civilian elements rose up against the monarchy of Isabel II, which had been tottering for some time: progressives and democrats, unionists and republicans united in the Pact of Ostend orchestrated by the baton of General Prim and other commanders -Serrano, Topete, Dulce, Rodas…- and, under the motto Spain with honorThey took up arms.

After a brief battle at the Alcolea Bridge, they forced the queen to leave the countrybeing led by a Provisional Government.

Battle of Alcolea/Image: public domain on Wikimedia Commons

The main task for firstonce Congress approved a new constitution in which the form of state remained the monarchy, was to find a new owner for this.

Thus began a long round of negotiations and polls throughout Europe in search of a dynasty that would take over from the Bourbon dynasty. Multiple royal houses began to applyin a kind of reissue of what had happened at the death of Carlos II in 1700.

Of all the candidacies considered, there were some that were impossible in practice, either for disinterest chosen (case of General Espartero, who was the popular favourite), either for resignation (Ferdinand II, widowed regent of Portugal, who had a lot of support but who rejected the offer due to pressure from an England suspicious of a possible peninsular union, apart from the fact that he had just remarried and his new wife did not want to hear about it “the dangerous cage of Spanish crickets”) or by incompatibility with the regimen (like that of the Carlist pretender Carlos VII, who refused to share sovereignty with a democratic constitution).

Ferdinand II and his second wife/Image: public domain on Wikimedia Commons

Others were close to fructifying but in the end they failed, as happened with the Duke of Montpensier: seconded by France, he lost his options when he found himself untimely involved in a duel in which he killed his brother-in-law Enrique de Asís when he accused him of conspiring against Elizabeth II to take his place.

Nor could he reign Leopold of Höhenzollern-Sigmaringena candidate offered by Bismarck who was renamed by the Spanish Olé, olé if they choose me or deaf pot without larynx for their unpronounceable surnames; Napoleon III vetoed it outright, an offense Bismarck used as an excuse to cunningly provoke Paris into declaring a war he hoped to win.

There were also the dynasties that were discarded as a uncertain risklike those of the Nordic countries, since it was feared that the lack of roots could cause an end like the one suffered by Maximilian I in Mexico.

Montpensier and Leopoldo/Image: public domain on Wikimedia Commons

And finally there were the options that they were not even taken into accountas the son of the exiled queen (the future Alfonso XII, who was also only twelve years old at that time) or the author of the epistle that, as indicated at the beginning, was received in the Cortes.

It was about Sidi Mohamed ben Abderhramana character who was not alien to the recent history of Spain because it was under his mandate that the call took place africa war between 1859 and 1860.

In those years the Spanish government was in the hands of the Liberal Union, a party created by General Leopold O’Donnell to fill the gap between moderates (conservatives) and progressives.

To end political polarization, he applied what was then called prestige politics, that is, a series of foreign military interventions to divert attention from internal problems and unite the Spanish in a common cause.

Leopoldo O’Donnell / Image: public domain on Wikimedia Commons

This is how the expedition to Cochinchina, the intervention in Mexico, the reincorporation of Santo Domingo to the crown and the War of the Pacific followed one another. Also the aforementioned campaign in the Moroccan north, where it was used as casus belli a minor incidentthe destruction in Ceuta of a stone border marker that had carved the national coat of arms, although with the background of the protection granted on those coasts to piracy.

The conflict coincided with the death of the old sultan, Muley Abderraman, and his succession by his fourth son, who, advised by England, agreed to compensate the damage. But the compensation demanded was disproportionate and he could not have satisfied it without losing her position, so they rang war drums.

O’Donnell himself took charge of forty thousand mendivided into three corps commanded by Generals Echagüe, Zavala and Ros de Olano, with Prim directing the reserve and Alcalá Galiano the cavalry.

In front, an enemy superior in numbers but much inferior in equipment, armed with old-fashioned artisan muskets and quite disorderly tactically, which reduced the practical results of his undoubted courage in combat. his boss was Muley el-Abbaseldest brother of the sultan.

Sidi Mohamed ben Abderramán, born in Fez in 1810, was a learned mana scholar and translator of the classics, astronomy and geometry (in fact, he himself invented a contraption that combined the functions of a watch, barometer and altimeter), also interested in poetry, music and philosophy.

In other words, the complete opposite of what a warrior was in principle, which is why throughout the conflict he maintained a passive and distant behaviorleaving the strategy in the hands of Muley el-Abbas.

The Battle of Tetouan (Mariano Fortuny)/Image: public domain on Wikimedia Commons

As expected, the Spanish prevailed in all the battles: Los Castillejos, Tetuán and Wad-Ras. Illustrious correspondents such as Pedro Antonio de Alarcón or Núñez de Arce left testimony of the campaign, which despite the victory It was disappointing because there was a huge number of casualties due to typhus, the cost was two hundred million reales and it had to be stopped when England said enough, considering it dangerous for the Spanish to reach Tangier.

What profits were slim (expansion of the Ceuta border within reach of a shell shot, fisheries in Sidi-Ifni and compensation of four hundred and sixty million reais), it is not surprising that the expression was coined “big war with a small peace” to define that adventure.

The Peace of Wad Ras (JD Bécquer)/Image: public domain on Wikimedia Commons

In addition, in the long run it would be counterproductive: the sultan could not satisfy that huge amount of money and was forced to cede half of the customs duties of his port cities.

Between that, the military defeat and the fact that he could not finish the payment until fourteen years later, he was left discredited and his authority undermined before his people, growing the rifian tribesrebellious by tradition and much more aggressive towards Spain.

In any case, the finalization of that payment no longer corresponded to Sidi Mohamed ben Abderramán but to his successor, his son Muley Hasán, because he died in 1873.

His proposal to the Spanish throne was not even accepted and was not included in the list of candidates which was voted in the Cortes in November 1869. The same year of his death, the man who had finally proclaimed himself King of Spain abdicated, Amadeo of Savoyfed up with obstacles and rudeness, after an ephemeral reign.


History of contemporary Spain (Jose Luis Comellas) / Political history, 1808-1874 (Ana Clara Guerrero, Ana Guerrero Latorre, Juan Sisinio Pérez Garzó and Germán Rueda Hernanz) / South of Tarifa: Morocco-Spain, a historical misunderstanding (Alfonso de la Serna) / Approach to the background, causes and consequences of the African War (1859-1860) from the communications between Spanish diplomacy and the Ministry of State (Óscar Garrido Guijarro).